Gregory Snaith: Little Magazine Editor

Only Gregory seemed prepared to upset the applecart

Arty Types

This article is taken from the May 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

On the day before Oxford English finals, when Gregory’s tutorial group met for its valedictory session, their tutor, Dr Carstairs, asked them all what they intended to “do”. The predictable replies — this was the late 1980s — included two merchant bankers, an embryo academic, several accountants and a haughty girl with her eye on RADA. Only Gregory seemed prepared to upset this applecart. “Actually,” he remarked, “I want to edit a literary magazine.”

Dr Carstairs was a polite but somewhat unworldly man whom Gregory had spent three years quietly baffling. “I see,” he observed. “Does that mean you want to work on the New Statesman or the Spectator?” “Indeed, no,” Gregory assured him — even at 22, he favoured a precise and pedantic diction. “I mean a proper literary magazine.” And that was that. Gregory acquired a second-class degree, took a job as a House of Commons clerk and disappeared into what may or may not have been the real world.

How do you edit a literary magazine? By far the best way, Gregory assured himself, was to start your own — but this was easier said than done. Such an enterprise needed financial backing, contributors, distribution and, above all, publicity. It was not until the mid-1990s — Gregory was married by then and living in a maisonette in Putney — that the Waterbeach Review, named after the remote fenland village in which he had grown up, made its first appearance.

It was certainly highbrow: Gregory’s models were pre-war magazines such as Eliot’s Criterion and the Calendar of Modern Letters. There was an article discussing “The Poststructuralist as Bodhisattva” and a bracing essay by one of Gregory’s former tutors entitled “Freud: Lacan: Derrida: The Psychoanalytic Knot Untied”.

Circulation, after one or two ups and downs, settled at around 450

The Times Literary Supplement pronounced it “solid, challenging, esoteric”. Circulation, after one or two ups and downs, settled at around 450.

All this was nearly 30 years ago. Happily, the Waterbeach Review — now issued from the flat in Bloomsbury to which Gregory migrated after his marriage broke down — is still with us, sometimes as a quarterly, at other times, when funds are very low, as a biannual.

If there are occasional concessions to the modern age — articles about tendencies in contemporary fiction, symposia on issues of the day — then it is clear that Gregory’s real sympathies run some way behind. He is currently working on a long article entitled “Sacheverell Sitwell and the Seeds of the Post-Modern Aesthetic”.

The best place to see Gregory is the London Library, where he tends to call in after lunch — he is still employed at the House of Commons. He can be identified by his cadaverous exterior, an antique tweed suit and a habit of smirking superciliously over copies of the London Review of Books. The least that can be said of him is that it is possible to travel further in the world of literature and fare a great deal worse.

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